Enthusiastic applause greeted the Oscar-winning actor and director as he walked onstage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to receive the Latino Business Association's Chairman's Visionary Award.
Gibson answered questions from association Chairman Rick Sarmiento about the film, a Mayan-language epic filmed in Mexico that chronicles the decline of the native civilization.
No mention was made of Gibson's recent troubles with the law. He made headlines for anti-Semitic comments to police in Malibu when he was arrested in late July on suspicion of drunken driving. He publicly apologized.
In August, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor in a deal that included alcohol rehabilitation, probation and fines.
After watching a screening of "Apocalypto," Sarmiento said, he and the association's board unanimously decided to grant the honor to Gibson. The scandal did not affect the 30-year-old Los Angeles group's decision, he said.
"Hearing him tell the story about using Latino actors, it was a no-brainer," Sarmiento said.
"It's not really a Hollywood production. It's a film made by Mexico, in a way," Gibson told the audience, citing the movie's crew of Latino makeup artists and set designers, and a cast of unknown actors.
He said that casting unknowns was "tantamount to being at the Super Bowl and getting your quarterback from the audience." Gibson originally traveled to Mexico City alone to search for potential actors. He cast one man after spotting him in a juice bar.
Of eating the food in Mexico, Gibson said: "I have the gringo gut. I was crawling around on my hands and knees some days." Trails of laughter met his comment.
Gibson said that his film, scheduled for release by Disney on Dec. 8., is a "badge of honor for the Latino community."